Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Review: New Town Kings – Pull Up & Rewind

When Barso sang “My girl’s mad at me …” We knew what he meant immediately. The efficiency of the lyric stunned us. There was no beating around the bush. He run in with it … and quickly too. With an open heart. It was a confession. Blurted out. Skank might be optimistic. A joyful blend of fruity Jamaican rhythms and cheerful melodies. All performed with a bleached “tide is high” mentality and sandy beach bum attitude. But the sub-text should hit home with cunning.

Like the blues, ska songs should be efficient in their re-telling. The words should be agile, razor-sharp and angry. Like a hungry terrier. They should gnarl and bite. That’s why the 2 Tone movement took off. Because young punk warriors could spit and growl. As they danced together. And that’s why we liked the previous work of New Town Kings. This 9 piece Ska & Reggae band from Colchester, Essex knew how to party. But they possessed some bite and gristle.

Formed in 2007, the band released two earlier albums – ‘Sounds Of The New Town’ (2008) and ‘M.O.J.O’ (2012). Acclaimed as the UK’s greatest trad Ska band, New Town Kings toured hard – playing shows and festivals all around the UK and continental Europe.newtoen kings

But in 2013, long time front man, Chris Watts, decided to leave the band. Fortunately, in stepped a new singer, Dabs Bonner. With renewed energy and focus, the outfit went into the studio to record EP ‘Pull Up & Rewind’ – to be released 13th July 2014 on Bomber Music.

The first song – ‘Change’– has a hint of roots from the Althea & Donna hit ‘Uptown Top Ranking’. (This song had already employed the riddim from Alton Ellis’s 1967 song ‘I’m Still In Love’). The song gets stuck in right away. Slagging the fat cats. The organ is plonked down in see-saw fashion. And the backing vocal, and the horns, reduce the main melody. Driving it down like a an angry bull. The main vocal chafes and scratches like new denim on fresh skin. But it also evokes passion. It ignites the drive and response. And that is what this is type of music is all about. This is by far the best track on the disc.

Things get more sedate with ‘Luna Rosa’ – which has a scratchy little beat. Made of heated güiros and wooden blocks. The main vocal sways (concentrating on truckin’ right.) But the speedy – Latino – pattern of words are slowed down by the golden “Red, red moon…” chorus. This is as luxurious and as polished as a cherry wood box in your Nan’s Sunday-best sitting room.

‘Grabbed My Hand’ has huge crescents of horn sound. The reggae rhythm is smooth as pebbles. And the main voice is as fresh as the ocean breeze. This song is light, sandy and silvery. It crests like a startled flying fish in Bridgetown Harbour. But it reminds us – way too much – of “Mysterious Girl”. This is pop-tart material.

‘Cool The Presure Down’ has a luxurious irregular furrow of bass tones. The musicianship is superb. Fully formed and eloquent. But the song does not seem nearly dangerous enough.

When the Maytals sung “It is you … yeah you …” in their hit ‘Pressure Drop’ – for the evil impresario Leslie Kong – they really meant it. He was a nasty bastard. So were all the others – they had been mistreated for years. Toots and the gang were actually calling thunder down … like voodoo witch-doctors. Calling down, from heaven, swollen catastrophe. Onto the heads of those who had wronged them.

But in the New Town Kings ‘Pressure Down’ song the passion and the feeling seems a bit flimsy: “I would rather be your friend than your enemy…” Indeed. Or just have a cup of tea and forget all about it! This is slinky, oily. And lethargic.

This EP is a highly accessible. It will certainly collect many new listeners – and will please the record company executives. It is extremely radio friendly. But where is the anger and gnash?


New Town Kings ‘Pull Up & Rewind’ is out now via Bomber Music.

Video: New Town Kings – ‘Change’

Neil Mach
Neil Mach
RAMzine Senior Writer - With a career spanning 30 years author / journalist Neil Mach is an expert on the music business and is a reliable guide. He especially loves heavy metal, prog & blues.

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